Monday, 30 January 2012

Why only write about running?

Is there some unspoken rule that when you start a blog you are expected to write about a single subject? I have no issue with that sort of dedication, but when the possibilities of topics could be endless it feels self-limiting to pigeonhole yourself by default. It's a personal bias, but I see enough overspecialization in academia as it is. Having said that, grad students tend to be the ones you find most hyper-focused; I feel well-rounded professors should be writing blogs too. So it goes.

Is it fair to say despite the monomania infecting most online writing, the reality of our minds is the complete opposite? My personality is one of skipping from one topic to the next. As such when armed with a wireless signal I am not exactly a model PhD candidate. Lately I've been thinking about or doing -in no particular order- running, atmospheric chemistry, science, cooking, books and movies. Hobbies also include puzzles & crosswords (both done poorly), the occasional bout of juggling (I once, once, juggled 7 balls), xc skiing (used to do it more often), and walking. I also enjoy spending time with my fiance, naturally. Writing is a relatively new hobby, and writing on this blog has not been without a few false starts. Most people have several hobbies. For now I have included the meta-hobby of writing about my hobbies.

I get it that some might use blogs as a mental escape from work. But I don't think it's that simple. For starters, real writing takes both time and work. Perhaps you are slaving 50 hours a week but also need to share your secret life of running marathons (that's how my blog first started/ended, minus the slaving hours). First thing is given that writing is itself a hobby, you actually now have two secrets to share. Secondly I hate that people have to be coy, or worse, show false modesty about regular exercise.  Third, Roger Ebert once said -more eloquently than I have put here- if there is something you are doing instead of your day job, that thing is now your day job.

As I said before, I don't focus easily on one thing at a time, so at first I thought it might be smart to write about only running. Keep focused, just like that high school English exercise where you write 500 words about the pencil in front of you (describe its color, shape, smell, the texture and so on). I once wrote an entire piece about a three-hour car ride to my grandparent's house. Oddly enough the teacher liked it.

Maybe it's unfair to start a blog about one thing then do a 180. But am I writing for any particular audience? Do I even have an audience? Of course you don't choose your audience, your audience chooses you. Recall that although Melville was an exceptionally skilled writer, he did not study whaling his entire life before writing Moby Dick. Shows that you can write 'authoritatively' without holding a PhD in the topic. If your hobbies are really nothing more than hobbies, write freely about all of them as a self-declared amateur. How many running blogs are written by 'qualified' individuals? Steve Magness comes to mind, but it's not a very long list.

I am perhaps more impressed with people like Roger Ebert. His blog ranges in scope from personal anecdotes to thoughts on evolution, capital punishment, and the occupy Wall Street movement. Just write honestly and consistently about what comes to mind. Conversely it pains me to read something like this from a professional runner. The goal: write broadly when the desire strikes. If I injure myself or choose to love another sport, where would that leave me? I want this blog to be robust (thank you again Taleb for the inspiration). For now I'm holding a focus on running. If I go off-topic I'll deal with the consequences.

A final note: For pure running I enjoy reading Reid Coolsaet's blog; he's the most down-to-earth writer on the topic I know of. Reid is a near-future Canadian Olympiad, so his humble approach sends me a clear message on readability. And of course I always check in with my team website Montreal Endurance (created by John Lofranco, head coach/honcho) and Hutchinson's Sweat Science. John is a gold mine all things & people Montreal-related plus links galore. I'm not yet particularly well-read in the blogosphere (aside: spell-check actually recognizes that word), therefore I won't attempt to start a comprehensive reading list here. Later I might start a list of running-related books and movies that I like. No promises.

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